“I believe, I do believe, truly I believe it”
My call story is complicated.
I did not experience an Isaiah moment of spiritual clarity. Nor was I blasted by a Road to Damascus moment of sudden inspiration. Nor do I, despite the fact that I stayed away from seminary until I was in my late 40s, feel much kinship with Jonah, the reluctant prophet who was chased down and finally caught by God.
I’ve never had a great desire to be a pastor and I still wonder if I will ever be comfortable in the role. Don’t misunderstand me; I am a pastor by choice. I know why I am a pastor but it’s a confluence of so many factors that I am not sure I can explain it to anyone, much less present it in the confines of the word count for an article like this.
Ask me why I preach, though. That one is easy.
The reason can be stated in the simple words of the song with which I began this article, words with which we sang in the creed at a worship service a few weeks ago. I preach because I truly believe the message of the Gospel. By believe, I don’t mean merely an intellectual assent to it or to the doctrines surrounding it. Nor do I mean that I have decided to blindly throw in my lot with Jesus.
I once read an essay by a great intellectual who decided he needed to experience the solemn encounter with the Almighty in a worship service. He left disappointed, primarily because of the sermon. It was not that he didn’t believe what the preacher said. The disappointment was listening to a preacher who could not convince him that he believed what he was preaching.
I tend to be an excessively quiet, calm, mild-mannered, laid-back person. I have trouble being that way when I preach or teach, because I believe the message of the Gospel. I believe that God calls us to new life and to change lives. I believe that Jesus came among us to show us the love of God and to point the way to the peace and justice and joy God intended for humans.
I preach because there is nothing more important than getting that word out.
I preach because, in my experience, that message is not being delivered often enough or strongly enough.
This past Sunday I visited a church where when you walked into the meeting room, the bitterness and anger was so powerful it all but knocked you over. If I were an alien creature from another civilization and had to hazard a guess, I would have guessed from this congregation that the mission of Jesus Christ was to condemn as many people as possible, by any means possible. This at a place commissioned to show the love of God in Christ Jesus and to point the way to peace, justice, and joy.
After such experiences, I honestly don’t blame people for rejecting the Christian church altogether. There are occasions when that seems to me the only rational course. When I hear people who have been given the most wonderful and profound message on earth go out and preach condemnation it can shake my faith.
At such times, I have to remind myself that this state of affairs is exactly why I preach. Because the Gospel needs to be heard.
I truly believe the mission statement of our congregation: we are a people formed in the waters of Christian baptism to be a fountain of life for all who gather, overflowing into a river of compassion for the world.
I don’t know what difference I can make in world like this. Sometimes the sin in the world and in the church and, if I’m honest, in myself, is so overwhelming I wonder if a preacher can do any good at all. But then I remember the words of Samwise in The Lord of the Rings: “There is good in the world, and it’s worth fighting for.” I remember that this is God’s creation, that it is a fabulous gift, and that God will bring all things to God’s purpose in the end.
I believe the message of the Gospel; no, truly I believe it. There is no greater privilege in the world than preaching it.